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Remembering Ozzie Nelson

Today is the birthday of orchestra leader, TV actor, and TV producer Ozzie Nelson. You may remember his show from the 50’s and 60’s, “The Adventures Of Ozzie & Harriet.”

Ozzie was born March 20, 1906 in Jersey City, New Jersey. At the age of 13 he earned the rank of Eagle Scout. He started his career as a orchestra leader, recording and performing popular songs such as “Over Somebody’s Else Shoulder” and “And Then Some”, a #1 hit in 1935.

In October 1935, Ozzie married the band’s vocalist, Harriet Hilliard. She made 16 feature films before she and Ozzie launched their radio and TV shows. The couple had two children: David and Ricky. Many people remember Ricky Nelson as a pop singer in the 50’s and 60’s and even into the 70’s. David was more on the business side of entertainment.

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett originally started on radio in 1944 until 1952. When it launched on the ABC Television Network, ABC had only been around a few years and found itself struggling to compete with CBS and NBC. It needed programming but programming that didn’t cost huge money. Back in that day, the stars owned their own television shows and that was the case with The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The show was really nothing more than a look into the life of an average American family and the various situations they found themselves in. Nothing was ever too serious. Like Ward Cleaver in Leave It To Beaver, we never really knew for sure what Ozzie did for a living on the show but it was reported that he worked for an advertising agency (there was never any reference in the show about Ozzie’s and Harriet’s real life professions).

From 1952 to 1966, 435 episodes were filmed. On camera, Ozzie played a very laid back character but in real life was the exact opposite. He was a hard driving entertainment executive and very hands on when it came to both the radio and TV shows.

I loved watching this show growing up. ABC moved it around quite a bit during its run but was primarily was on Wednesday nights at 8pm, then 7:30pm, and then 6:30pm. What I remember was that some episodes in the mid 60’s had this really cool jazzy closing theme with a piano and a bass. You can search for these on YouTube and hear them. But what was revolutionary was the creation of early music videos featuring son Ricky. At the end of some episodes, the last segment was Ricky performing his new hit song before a group of crazy teenagers. Rick had 36 songs on the Billboard Top 40 charts from 1957 to 1972. He had two #1 hits: “Poor Little Fool” and “Travelin’ Man”. All told, he had 19 top 10 hits in his career. Rick passed away in 1985 in a plane crash in DeKalb, Texas. His daughter Tracy became a movie actress and his twin sons formed a band in the 90’s called Nelson.

Ozzie passed away on June 3, 1975. But what a tremendous contribution he made to music and the early days of television. He was a true pioneer and innovator. Thanks, Mr. Nelson.

See you next time.